Retirees in Prime Position to Volunteer

Guest post by Carol Marak

Retirees in prime position to volunteerNot all retirees are ready to withdraw completely. Today, more than ever, seniors want to stay involved in the community because they understand that social isolation is a health risk. While at work, they could count on their full-time job for friendships, and after retirement, the individual feels disconnected from their built-in social circle. The work connections vanish. And if a retiree doesn’t fill the void with newly formed bonds, loneliness and isolation become the new companion.

The results of social isolation:

  • The psychologist Robert Bornstein, co-author of How to Age in Place, says if people become lonely and isolated in retirement, the feelings produce a “downward spiral.”
  • John Cacioppo, a social neuroscientist, says the brain senses isolation or rejection as real threats, just like pain, hunger, or thirst. The effects of such threats put the mind into “self-preservation” mode that could carry startling results, keeping the body on elevated alert, which increases cortisol and plays havoc on the sleep patterns.
  • Social isolation can be as threatening as obesity, according to new research. There are close to 60 million Americans affected by this invisible epidemic, and scientists say that chronic loneliness poses a severe health risk.

Social Disconnect Vanishes Within Mixed Generations  

Inter-generational volunteering reduces social isolation If your nonprofit helps children, consider expanding programs that include intergenerational connections. When you do, magic happens. Since our culture tends to isolate and connect with online networks, your organization holds the key to creating approaches that deal with pressing community needs.

Intergenerational strategies can forge a path of respect and reciprocity. Over time, our culture has lost the greatest resource that mixed generations offer—a give and receive arrangement across the lifespan. Each person, no matter their age, will need and require help at various stages of their lives. Mixed generational programs mandate that we identify the inherent strength of each age group and their need to connect.

Recently, published a volunteer guide that promotes helping older adults and the elderly. Facts that you may not know about the senior population:

  • 45% of women age 75+ live alone
  • 28% (12.1 million) of noninstitutionalized older persons live alone (8.4 million women, 3.7 million men)
  • 21% of Americans age 65+ no longer drive. The non-drivers have little ability to participate in local events
  • Hunger threatens over 9 million seniors
  • 1 million homebound older people are malnourished

Since isolation is a significant issue, in particular for older seniors living in suburbia and rural areas, let’s think of ways to support them through local volunteer opportunities. I asked the Aging Council, “What opportunities can help enhance social connection for all ages?”  Here’s what they said:

“We need more person-to-person volunteer programs like the “adopt a grandparent.” But more importantly, we need to help the elderly to engage and to volunteer. If an agency/program could coordinate the transportation, people living in rural areas could be involved.” – Shannon Martin and AgingWisely.

“A great way for rural or homebound seniors to feel connected is using technology to attend virtually the local senior center! A deeper friendship can grow via telephone, email, social media or video chat, even with children. Participating with peers will relieve loneliness and give a sense of purpose.” – Kathy Birkett, SeniorCareCorner.

“We need a diverse transportation option to meet the needs of older adults who require a safe, affordable and convenient transport. Tapping into the growing cohort of retirees could be a way to increase volunteer driving programs and provide a local solution for rides.” – Harsh Wanigaratne, Spedsta.

“One of my clients obtained help from the local church. The volunteers from the church made visitations to her home, offered rides, lawn care, minor home repairs, power washing, etc.” – David Mordehi, Advise & Protect.

What is your nonprofit’s experience? Do you offer intergenerational programs that solve social issues for both children and adults? If so, please share what you and the participants learned.

Carol, author of "Retirees in Prime Position to Volunteer"About the author:
Carol Marak is an Aging Advocate, Columnist, and Editor at She’s earned a Certificate in the Fundamentals of Gerontology from the University of CA, Davis. Contact Carol at

A New Guide to Engaging Volunteers to Lead New Initiatives at Your Organization

Two years ago, our book Boomer Volunteer Engagement: Collaborate Today, Thrive Tomorrow laid the groundwork for a new model of organizational capacity-building. Today we’re excited to announce a companion guide designed to help organizations engage volunteer leaders to implement Boomer volunteer initiatives!

Boomer Volunteer Engagement: Facilitator’s Tool Kit contains everything facilitators need to launch a volunteer engagement initiative at your organization.

This new Tool Kit includes:

  • A detailed timeline with instructions to develop an engagement pilot in 6-8 months.
  • Field-tested tools for an experienced volunteer to facilitate your organization’s Boomer volunteer initiative.
  • A complete Facilitator’s Guide in 8 Modules with monthly meeting agendas, group exercises, and evaluation tools.

Both of these great resources are from Jill Friedman Fixler (founder and president of JFFixler Group) and VolunteerMatch. And both are now available in either print or downloadable PDF formats.

Are you ready to build capacity at your organization with help from older adult volunteers?

Buy the book today.

Boomer Webinar Recap: Creating Positions, Networking, and Cultivation

jff_graphicOn Wednesday, March 24, VolunteerMatch hosted a webinar on Boomer Volunteer Engagement presented by JFFixler & Associates. This was part three in a series of web trainings about engaging older adults, and expanded on the topic by specifically addressing Boomer-friendly positions, effective position descriptions, and tips for marketing those positions within the Boomer community.

Senior Strategist Beth Steinhorn and Consultant Sandie Eichberg  focused on how organizational leaders can more effectively engage Boomer volunteers and the generations that follow by effectively creating positions, networking, and cultivation.

Some of the best strategies to successfully engage Boomers and the generations that follow in high-impact volunteer roles include:

  • Create high-impact positions that align with the organization’s strategic priorities.
  • Develop outcome-focused position descriptions to attract results-oriented individuals.
  • Many existing volunteer roles can be restructured to be more attractive to new, potential volunteers needing flexible schedules.
  • Cultivate new volunteers from within your existing circles of influence – including volunteers, clients, donors, and all of their family and friends.
  • Leverage online social networking sites to extend the “personal ask” and cultivate volunteers more effectively.

The next presentation of this webinar takes place on Wednesday, July 28, at 12PM PT. Click here to register for the free event.

You can also sign up for the rest of our webinar series on older adult engagement:

  • Part 1: Introduction and Overview
  • Part 2: Structuring for Innovation
  • Part 3: Creating Positions, Networking, and Cultivation
  • Part 4: Sustaining the Collaboration

Visit our Learning Center to sign up for these events.

Slim Rise in U.S. Volunteer Rates No Match for Huge Rise in Federal Spending on Volunteering

Build Brigade, Homes for Our Troops

Build Brigade, Homes for Our Troops

If no news is good news during tough times, then even slightly optimistic news is a beacon of hope, right?

That’s what the results of the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ latest report on U.S. volunteer rates suggest, says the Corporation for National and Community Service. The $1.15 billion federal agency is promoting the BLS figures this week.

But despite some definite improvements — particularly in light of a severe recession — the results should be taken with a grain of salt.

In a press release with the heady headline “Volunteering Up Amid Tough Economic Times,” Stephen Goldsmith, board chair of the Corporation, says “We’re seeing a compassion boom across this country, where communities are banding together and neighbors are reaching out in service to others. It is truly the generosity of the American spirit at its best. The need is great, the momentum is strong, and potential is unlimited for ushering in a new era of service in America.”

So what does a compassion boom look like? Here are the numbers:

And some highlights:

  • 1.5 million more Americans say they volunteered between September 2008 and September 2009 than during the previous year.
  • The total number who reported volunteering was 63.4 million people (26.8% of the population), compared to 61.8 million in 2008.
  • Volunteer rates for women increased from 29.4% to 30.1%.
  • People with full-time jobs showed a .9% increase in their volunteer rate.
  • Volunteer rates among unemployed men increased just 1.2%.
  • Those between ages of 35 and 54 were the most likely to volunteer.

If you only keep your eye on the slim rise from 2008 to 2009, you’ll definitely miss the big picture. Three recent years, including the recession year of 2003 (not pictured), all saw higher volunteer rates than last year.

Where would today’s volunteer rate be without the new 9-11 Day of Service, an historic MLK Day of Service, President Obama’s volunteer initiative,, or the recession? It’s impossible to say. But before these expensive national service programs existed (and before the Corporation’s budget swelled by $260 million thanks to the Serve America Act) more Americans were volunteering.

And yet don’t let these results burst your benevolent bubble. Instead, we can use them to help focus our attention on programs that really have made a difference. At VolunteerMatch, 2009 was a banner year.

We’re working on our Annual Report now, but some early highlights show real progress, including a 20% rise in volunteer referrals to 677,000 for the year, 10.4% more visitors, and nearly 20% more participating organizations. Our budget? Less than $4 million.

Where Nonprofits Fit In

To get more great volunteers, great nonprofits have to get into the mix.  Take advantage of the rise in volunteerism at VolunteerMatch by posting your opportunities today.

Also, be sure to take part in our free Webinars to ensure your volunteer program has the quality to match the quantity.

Register for VolunteerMatch 101 on February 3rd, Best Practices for Recruiting Online on February 2nd, or learn more about recruiting a new generation of older adult volunteers  with our next Boomer Volunteer Engagement Webinar, taking place February 24th.

2010 Webinar Calendar: 13 Great Ways to Strengthen Your Volunteer Program

VolunteerMatch Webinars for organizationsReady to get even more serious about your volunteer program in 2010? We’ve just posted our calendar of free Web-based trainings for the entire year ahead.

There are thirteen topics in all — and the list is sure to grow as the year begins. Sign up today to reserve your spot.

So what’s new for 2010? Plenty. Not only is our training calendar bigger than ever, it really does have something for all skills levels and all program types.

If you manage just a handful of volunteers, or hundreds, VolunteerMatch Webinars will help you succeed in your job and help your organization succeed in its mission.

For 2010, topics include:

Introductory Level

  • VolunteerMatch 101
  • Best Practices for Recruiting Online
  • Introduction to Community Leader
  • The New Volunteer Manager’s Toolkit
  • The CVA Credential: A Mark of Excellence
  • Successful Volunteer Interview Strategies
  • Single Days of Service: Make It Work
  • Social Media and Volunteer Engagement

Advanced Level

  • Engaging Pro Bono and Skilled Volunteers
  • Egnaging Difficult Volunteer Transitions
  • Making Volunteer Engagement Everyone’s Job
  • Boomer Volunteer Engagement Webinars
  • Sustaining the Collaboration

Click here for details and dates:

About VolunteerMatch Trainings

All our trainings are conducted live by experienced teachers and volunteer managers, and are held in an open format so attendees can ask questions and get the answers they need.

It’s easy to participate. All you need to attend is a computer with speakers and an internet connection, and they’re absolutely free!